Liver Cancer Causes

Just like other types of cancer, the leading cause of liver cancer is not known. However, there are several risk factors for liver cancer that experts link with the causes of the disease.

Below are some liver cancer risk causes: (1)

  • Changes in the DNA: Variations in the DNA that turn on oncogenes (genes that are responsible for the growth and division of cells) or turn off tumor suppressor genes (genes that slow down cell division and cause the death of cells); can cause cancer, though several other genes help in the development of liver cancer.
  • Infection With Chemical: Some chemicals such as aflatoxins, damage the DNA in the cells of the liver such as the TP53 tumor suppressor gene. This gene also works to prevent excessive growth of cells. When the chemicals alter the TP53 gene, there is an increase in the rate of growth of abnormal cells that can be cancerous.
  • Infection with Hepatitis Virus: The presence of hepatitis virus in the liver can also cause damage to its cells. It happens when the virus’ DNA carries instructions on how to infect cells of the liver and produce more viruses. The virus can also insert itself into a liver cell’s DNA, and it ends up affecting the genes.

Liver Cancer Risk Factors

Since no research has yet determined the leading cause of liver cancer, patients can instead use risk factors of the disease to determine their likelihood of having liver cancer. However, having any of the factors does not mean that you will suffer the disease. Nevertheless, some people who get the disease may not have had any of the risk factors. (2)

  • Gender: Cancer of the liver is more common in males than in females. However, the fibro-lamellar type of liver cancer is more common in women than in men.
  • Chronic Viral Hepatitis: Long-term infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus leads to cirrhosis of the liver which is a more common risk factors for liver cancer. The risk increases, if you are affected by both the viruses, and may lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • Cirrhosis: People with cirrhosis (a disease in which the cells of the liver are damaged and replaced by scar tissue) have an increased risk of liver cancer.
    Cirrhosis majorly arises as a result of:

    • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
    • Inherited metabolic diseases
    • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Obesity: Being very overweight increases the risk of developing liver cancer because it results in fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • Excessive Use of Alcohol: It is the leading cause of liver cancer in the United States, and it increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Aflatoxins: Long-term exposure to aflatoxins increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: This kind of diabetes increases the risk of liver cancer because people with this type of diabetes tend to be obese, and this is another risk factor for liver cancer.

Other Liver Cancer Risk Factors

  • Some Rare Diseases: Some rare diseases can also increase the risk of liver cancer. (3)
    Some rare diseases that increase the risk of liver cancer include:

    • Tyrosinemia
    • Glycogen storage diseases
    • Wilson disease
    • Porphyria cutanea tarda
    • Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency
    • Vinyl chloride and thorium dioxide (Thorotrast)
    • Long-term exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of angiosarcoma of the liver and increases the risk of developing cholangiocarcinoma and hepatocellular
  • Anabolic Steroids: Long-term use of steroids by athletes increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Arsenic: Lastly, taking of drinking water with naturally occurring arsenic increases the risk of liver cancer.


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American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2017, from

Cancer Treatment Centers Of America. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2017, from